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Orville Peck takes off the mask

Masked singer kicks off Meijer Gardens's summer concert series with songs alternating between melancholy and rousing.


Orville Peck might have stepped out of mid-century America. That's partly because of his voice. When he goes low, he sometimes sounds like Elvis. His upper register evokes Roy Orbison. It's also because of his songs. Peck writes the kind of music you don't hear much any more. He avoids the cliches of modern country ("simple noun, rural adjective," as Bo Burnham put it) in favor of deeper subjects: pain, love and the way the two of them are often intertwined.

On June 5, Peck and band took the stage at Meijer Gardens, opening the summer concert series. He was masked, unsurprisingly. He's always masked in public, which gives him both anonymity and, at times, a slightly menacing quality. The evening began with "Big Sky," a haunting evocation of loneliness within relationships. Peck's crooning baritone seemed to hang in the air like smoke.

Over the course of an hour and a half, Peck played twenty songs. Some of them were dark and slow ("No Glory In The West"), others raw and energetic. Among the best of the latter was "Lafayette," an ode to a long-lost lover whose spark still burns in the singer's breast. "You know, I recall someone saying, 'There ain't no cowboys left,'" he sings. "But they ain't met me, and they ain't met you, Lafayette."

For all the mystery Peck seems to cultivate, onstage he was unmasked in every way that counts. Introducing "Hexie Mountains," he talked about mental health struggles that caused him to cancel a previous tour, which would have included a stop in Grand Rapids. But he was in a better place now, he said. A better place than he'd ever been. And that was clear throughout the performance, whether he was marveling over the fact that Willie Nelson had dueted with him, passing out roses to audience members or handing off his guitar and sitting down at the piano. He kicked, laughed and mugged, all with the air of being the luckiest guy in the world.

Michigan seemed to puzzle him, both because of its muggy heat and the stubborn way the light remained after the sun seemed to set (he joked that it reminded him of Anchorage). But he seemed completely at home among the sold-out crowd, interacting with a gentlemanly humility and an easy humor. Song after song landed. Among the best were "C'mon Baby, Cry," "Roses Are Falling," and "Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond Of Each Other" (the aforementioned Willie Nelson debut). He and his band left the stage, returning for a two-song encore: his own "Bronco" and a cover of Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting." Then it was done.

"I love him," a young woman behind me said. "And he's still only my second-favorite Orville." No disrespect to the late popcorn magnate, but the singer's my number one. Popcorn you can get anywhere. A show like that's a rarer treat.

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